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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

laundry and blackberry pie

the author's

the author’s

This is my reward for a gruelling two weeks spent with the family my mother-in-law into a new, more secure  Alzheimer’s facility. It’s the break from the laundry fallout, as well. Since we’re all of Mom’s family who live near her, the rest of the family stays here (and we are grateful to have room!) when they come in. Still, having three other adults in the house is a bit crazy!

Today, they’re all gone, and while I miss the conversation & hugs, the quiet is soothing after a week filled with hard moments. I had just started what I think is the last load of laundry (there were at least 10!), then folding the tablecloth we used for dinners, and the matching napkins. When the pies dinged ready. Perfect timing!

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the author's two sleepy dogs

the author’s two sleepy dogs

As it turned out, there were four more loads of laundry. But two pies later — one for my husband (what kind of crazy person doesn’t like blackberries??), and one for all the rest of us — order is slowly creeping back into place. And silence that lovely, overlooked poultice for jangled nerves is working its magic. My beloved is taking a well-deserved nap, and I’m watching the dogs sleep in the afternoon light slanting over the rug in my study.

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Later, there will be left-behind keys to mail, phone calls to make, and various things necessary to finish up Mom’s move. Beds to make up with the clean sheets, and dinner to cook. But right now? This is the moment I’m breathing in deeply: the fragrance of pie crust cooling, mingle with the rich sweetness of hot, baked fruit. The snuffling of dogs dreaming peacefully. And the knowledge that today is enough.

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introductions

maki-p.deviantart.com

maki-p.deviantart.com

Recently I mentioned in a Facebook thread that I was interested in the Quaker meeting in my hometown. I’ve always been drawn to Quaker beliefs, ever since I read about Benjamin Franklin. Later, it was attending meetings with my sister-in-law. Still later (& more recently), I did scholarly research on a couple of prominent historical Quaker leaders. And do NOT forget the wonderful What does George Fox say? YouTube detailing the Quaker founding father’s beliefs.

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The combination of a deep historical commitment to both peace and social justice — reified early in their meetings by having women as well as men lead — appeals to me. Many Quaker beliefs, as far as I can tell from my readings, are at least contiguous with Buddhism, and often the two wisdom traditions overlap deeply.

via flickr

via flickr

I’ve been reading Friends Journal for years now, as I didn’t know where to go in my hometown to a meeting. The back of the Journal lists meetings in various cities and areas. But in my town, it said simply ‘Call for details.’ I’m uncomfortable calling strangers for spiritual guidance, it appears. 😉

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So when I found out a girlfriend attends meetings w/ her daughter, I asked about going with her. Within minutes (I am NOT exaggerating) I was connected via FaceBook, and asked to introduce myself.

And here’s today’s thought: how do you introduce yourself to a new spiritual community?? Where’s the etiquette for THAT, huh? Do you say…Hi! I’m moving, but in the meantime, could I come visit? I’ve always wanted to. That seems a bit…callow. But then, Hi! I did scholarly research on two of your historical leaders, and they’re super cool! sounds pretty shallow.

I asked the girlfriend I wanted to join in meeting. She’s one of the least ‘affected’ folks I know, and (of course!) said — Whatever, Britt. Well, remember me? The person who dropped out of creative writing THREE TIMES before I could bear to ‘introduce myself through my writing’…?? (True story, that.)

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How do you — you, personally — describe your spiritual journey-quest to strangers? Because chances are, I know NONE of these folks. And yes, they’re probably all super nice, or my friend wouldn’t go. But I don’t know them. And frankly? I’d rather discuss the deconstruction of sea slugs before sharing my (almost always maligned) spiritual beliefs. True, that.

via flickr

via flickr

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Beginnings are, as a famous sci-fi writer once said, such tenuous things. An introduction is just that: your first glimpse of who I am. I have no clue who you are, or which of the many hats I toss into the air at a moment’s notice to exchange for another I should ‘wear’ for you. And for sure you don’t want ALL my hats at once. So I struggle with what to highlight, what to elide. There seems far more ‘strategy’ about introductions than simply Hi. Here I am.

Here’s a question: introduce yourself to each other? To me? Or at least — tell me how you do it. I finally wrote some inane pat response ~ Thank you for the welcome! ~and let it go. Either they’ll get to know me personally or not. The end. But you? You guys I’ve been talking to for years, some of you. I’d love to know more about you.

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love and marriage

the author's

the author’s

Today would be my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary. I think… :) They were married after the war — mother a beautiful divorcée, working in my father the captain’s recruiting office. Well in to a tumultuous marriage, they divorced. Then remarried each other. Not the kind of rôle models you want for marriage, really.

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My father was as handsome as they come, and about as clueless in terms of marriage, I suspect. His own mother once told me — on her deathbed, no less — that she never should have married my grandfather. But she was a young spinster bluestocking, and her parents were, from what I understand,  very ‘enthusiastic’ (re: demanding?) that she marry Grandfather. I should have gone to live with Nona [her sister] in California, she told me.

My mother adored my father. Even when they fought — which wasn’t uncommon — she was proud of her hero of a husband, tall & gorgeous in his dress whites. And she loved traveling to the places Daddy was posted, at least at first.

the author's

the author’s

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But marriage — even the best of marriages, and I doubt theirs was — is very hard sometimes. And neither my mother (whose own mother was twice-divorced — once from my grandfather, an alcoholic, and later from a man who was abusive) nor my father had what we would now consider ‘healthy’ marriages. What they had was love & passion. And often that was enough.

What I learned, watching them, wasn’t always what they probably intended. I learned that love is fragile, and that surprises should be good ones — a baby elephant in a parking lot — not bad ones — you should talk about moves, not simply assign them. I learned that passion isn’t enough, but it can get you through bad moments. And that children shouldn’t be the major focus in a marriage — there must be the bond between the two partners, as well.

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I also learned that love ages, just as the partners do. What drew you together in your 20s will not keep you together in your 60s. Perhaps that’s what my parents discovered, when they divorced, and then remarried. Even now, these decades later, I wonder about the love my parents shared. So very different from my beloved in-laws’ marriage. Love is as idiosyncratic as voice & fingerprints, DNA. Unique to each set of lovers.

Today, thinking about my beautiful, damaged parents, I am grateful they loved each other enough to stay with us, their four children. I’m happy I was able to know them — as the flawed & yet wonderfully charming — couple they were for so many years.

bowl mended in kintsugi manner

bowl mended in kintsugi manner

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The Japanese have an art form — kintsugi — in which they mend broken bowls with gold. Akin to the philosophy of wabi-sabi, in which imperfection is seen as having its own ephemeral beauty, in kintsugi ceramics, the break is mended with a mix of lacquer and powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This highlights the broken places. Christy Bartlett, in The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics, notes that:

The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.

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Highlighting usage, the passage of time, and the hard edges of life with a richly beautiful seam of gold is what I think of when I reflect on my own mended bowl of a marriage. It’s what I learned from my parents, ultimately — that love need not be perfect. It need not even be comprehensible to anyone outside its circle. And perhaps its fissures, the pieces shattered by this tragedy or that wrong, are highly visible. Certainly my parents’ were. But if you make it through — if love mends those broken places — love need only be what it is — the indefinable reaching out of one heart for another. Then those cracks & chips & fragments & shards go through a kind of transformative alchemy, so that the loss of a child eventually becomes a sharing, not a breaking. And the passage of a dark & bitter year becomes seasoning, not destiny. And love? Love becomes a rare & lovely thing — gold highlighting all the breakage behind you. Its own kind of kintsugi, love, turning loss to gold that holds those places together.

 

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summer, and the greying of hours

the author's

the author’s

The thing about summer sky is that it’s inimitable. Spring sky has a pale, watercolour to it: blue is creeping out from under its drab winter coverlet, needing light. Autumn? It’s the sky that ‘lambent’ was invented for — light as thick and gold as honey. While in winter, light as sharp & bright as a knife blade. But summer… Summer sky is filled w/ clouds (at least in Oklahoma, where we’ve had the wettest late spring & early summer in history!), behind which a rich blue prairie sky serves as backdrop.

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When I’m feeling healthy — when my arthritic fingers will clasp things, and my cranky knees & feet will carry me without complaint where and when I want to go — I can still taste the summer of my life. But to be honest, I’ve entered Autumn, when the vivid greens begin to incandesce and light takes on an incendiary glow.

the author's

the author’s

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It’s always been my favourite season, fall, at least until I’m heartily sick of winter, and the first cheeky robins begin their loud begging in the front yard. Something about the last hurrah before winter’s dark curtain falls, the flame of leaves and the smoke of frost.

So that’s what I’m trying to think about, as I turn the corner from the summer of my life into autumn. The vivid brilliance of a grandchild, the unfolding of time like saffron autumn crocus petals. And the knowledge that it doesn’t last, life. It moves through its own seasons, at its own pace. Even though we still say If I die — meaning, if I die before you. Because of course we’re going to die. It’s the basis of Buddhism, this knowledge of our inevitable demise. It’s what the Buddha found so hard to understand — how we can live beneath the burden that all we love is transient. And ultimately, it’s what gives each day its own inutterable poignancy — that icy blade edge of death beneath it all.

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Which is fine, if you aren’t expecting to live forever. These days, it seems I am more & more aware of hourglasses — time & life as sand running through what seems like a pretty darn WIDE passage, they move so fast. In the meantime, I still get mad when people are cranky with me, even though I know life is short, and mad fixes so little. And I still roll my eyes when people do & say dumb things. Even though I know that no one wakes up in the morning wondering how best to be an idiot.

via wikicommons

via wikicommons

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This weekend my beloved & his sister are moving my mother-in-law, as I mentioned earlier. My mother-in-law — she who took a master’s degree in Chaucer & Shakespeare, she who wrote the entire family history in a book — often has no idea who they are. She is locked inside a mental landscape w/out familiar landmarks — at least the ones that have names, that walk through her room. My own mother died curled into a quiet, wordless shell of herself — like a many-chambered nautilus w/out the sea creature at the centre. So I’m familiar with this fugue state, and know it may well be my own destination. Winter, for me, may be another blank landscape, obscured by relentless icy needles. The colours of autumn — which I can name, savour, inhale — are far preferable. And infinitely precious, since I know that whatever happens come winter, this bright autumn will pass.

My point? Beginner’s heart, folks. It knows you haven’t the time you want, much less the time you think you need. So breathe slowly. Look around. And if autumn is on your own personal horizon? Enjoy the colours. Enjoy the light.

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